Many students swear by their bucket lists: a list of things they absolutely must do. “The idea is, you’re young, free and privileged and that’s why your life should be phenomenal.”
Kiss a penguin, swim with dolphins, become a millionaire, shave a coconut – thousands of people have drawn up their plans for the future on a bucket list, a list of things to do before they kick the bucket, i.e. before they die.
The bucket-list craze swept the globe a few years ago, following the Hollywood tearjerker The Bucket List, featuring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson as terminally ill cancer patients who decide to tackle a list of things they had always wanted to do. Nowadays, however, it’s the twenty-somethings who cling to these lists.
At first glance, the difference is striking: senior citizens facing imminent death compared to young people in their prime. “And yet, it’s mostly people in their twenties who are thinking about what they want from life. When they’re eighteen, they’re free from their parents’ rules and once they turn thirty, they’re stuck with the responsibilities of a job, a house, a long-term relationship and children”, explains Aik Kramer, a mediator. Kramer and Thijs Launspach, a psychologist, are the authors of the book Quarterlife. “The idea is, you live in the Netherlands, so you’re free and privileged and consequently, your life should be phenomenal. And you have to do it all between your eighteenth and your thirtieth birthdays.”
And that’s asking something. Obviously, students want to graduate and have fantastic careers, but while they’re doing that, they also want to run a marathon, write a book, have a role in a film or even direct one, climb the Himalaya, go skydiving, see the Northern Lights and go on safari. “Twenty-somethings want it all – and now. This generation is growing up believing they’re unique and that their lives should be fantastic”, Kramer continues. “If they can’t manage it all straight away, they tend to think that they’re failures. Reality hits them sometime after their twenty-fifth birthday.”
So is Kramer in favour of a non-phenomenal life? He denies the charge: “Ambition is good thing. Why not aim high – just don’t do it in all the areas of your life. We often see two types of problems: young people who want too much and those who want too little. A bucket list can help both groups. If you list a hundred things that are difficult to accomplish, you’ll soon discover that your expectations are too high. And those who list too few things can see how good life could have been.”
According to Klaas la Roi, a student (23, Dutch Language and Culture), it is important to combine easy goals with harder ones. “You really don’t always have to travel to the other side of the world: there’s always something you want to do but never get round to because of the daily grind.”
“A bucket list helps you structure the things you want to do or achieve”, agrees Yara van Langen (23, International Relations and Chinese). “You think things through.” Myrthe Prins (22, Journalism and New Media) built a website to chart her progress while La Roi has put his list on the website bucketlist.org. “You can look at other people’s goals on that website, and even copy them if you think they’re a good idea.” The website is full of pictures of hot air balloons, underwater journeys, beautiful views and – strangely enough – fridges full of eggs with funny faces on them.
“Of course, it’s great that bucket lists encourage people to do unusual things”, warns Kramer. “But we only get to see the things they’ve achieved. Facebook features pictures of people swimming with sharks or sight-seeing in New York on a daily basis. But if you only see the best moments in somebody’s life, happiness becomes prone to inflation.”
Aren’t these young people a bit self-centred? “People often say that, but I don’t see anything wrong with it”, says Kramer.
“Many young people used to believe in God and an afterlife, but nowadays they’re convinced that there is nothing left after death. They are confronted with their own mortality at an early age and want to get everything they can out of life. Besides, this generation has better opportunities than any previous generation ever had: they have to choose from hundreds of different academic courses, holiday destinations and ways to spend their leisure time. A bucket list can help them focus more clearly.”
When do you ever milk a cow?
“My bucket list has some serious goals”, says Klaas la Roi, “like graduating, recording a CD, writing a book and producing a play but I also use it to make my life more fun and more spontaneous. I’ve included ‘Hoover a lawn’, for instance, and when do you ever milk a cow?
“I also wanted to wear heels to lectures and try mascara one day. I’m interested in gender issues. Why is it acceptable for women to use the men’s loos but men can’t pop into the ladies? And why can girls wear men’s shoes but it’s not done for blokes to wear women’s shoes? A good friend realised why I like to think about these things so she said: ‘Come on, we’ll go to the shoe shop and get some heels.’ So we did. I bought some posh, black heels in the largest women’s size.”
Unfortunately, my friend died. It’s a pity she never saw me wear the shoes. I’m not linking my bucket list directly to death but it has made me think more often: go on, try it – you only live once.
“In the end, I did wear the shoes to lectures and the response was good. Everyone thought it was very cool. Actually, it’s weird that we never see any transgenders at university, but there must be some. If my deed made life easier for just one person, it was worth it.”
"Risks make life more exciting"
“A bucket list draws you out of your comfort zone and makes you explore your limits”, claims Myrthe Prins. “I want to be a nude model for an art class, but because it’s so scary, I keep putting it off. But I should do it while I’m still young. I want a ride in a squad car, but I’m too shy to ask a policeman when I see one – and getting arrested just for that is taking things a bit too far, frankly.
“These are the things you want to have tried but don’t want to do. I’ve got skydiving on my list, but I’m scared of heights. And I want to eat pufferfish (fugu), which is poisonous and can be lethal if it’s not properly prepared. Risks make life more exciting.
“I decided to I ought to give a tramp food instead of money and when one asked me for some change the other day, I took him to a cafeteria. I got some odd looks at the cash desk and I felt uncomfortable, but in the end, I went home feeling good about myself.”
“My list provides structure”
“I want to visit so many places, see other cultures and pick up some life lessons along the way” explains Yara van Langen. “I’m a bit of a show-off too: I want a bookcase full of Lonely Planets. I’ve got a scratch version of a world map in my room: every time you visit a country, you scratch away that country. But where do you start? It can’t be feasible to see all the countries in the world. My list provides structure.
“My plan is travel to all the former Dutch colonies. This summer, I’m attending a summer school in Taiwan, where there was a former trading post of the Dutch East India Company, Fort Zeelandia.
“Afterwards, it’s off to New York and I also want to go to Sri Lanka, South Africa and Suriname. One day I’ll go island-hopping in Indonesia. I still have to find out where the other colonies were. It can’t hurt to visit a sunny island in the Antilles.
“Obviously, money is an issue, and besides, I’m terrified of flying. I like awake at night just thinking about the flight to Taiwan. I’d prefer not to travel alone: if I die, I want someone to be there. It’s important to know where you are seated. I always count the seats to the emergency exit.
“And hostesses who do the safety procedures with a total lack of interest drive me wild. I realise that they do it about twenty times a day, but dude, this is my life we’re talking about. Get serious.”
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